Commencement

“Go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things”

— Mary Lyon, Founder of Mount Holyoke College

Commencement is a treasured ceremonial occasion that celebrates students who have graduated from Mount Holyoke College after completing all academic requirements and obligations. Typically, Mount Holyoke holds one annual Commencement in May to honor all graduates.

It’s time to celebrate your accomplishments

A collage of senior portratis

Meet the class of 2021

Congratulations and best wishes to the members of the class of 2021, some of whom have shared their stories.
Yo-Yo Ma, Chloé Zhao ’05 and Rabiya Javeri-Agha ’83 are reshaping the world and are exemplars of founder Mary Lyon’s dictum to “go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things.”

Class of 2021 honorary degree recipients

Mount Holyoke College has announced the three trailblazing honorary degree recipients who will join its 2021 Commencement.

Participate in Events and Traditions

A number of traditions and events will be held for all graduates, both residential and remote. Senior Week will happen May 12–15. For residential students, the majority of these events will have an in-person, on-campus component. Residential students eligible for graduation are welcome to stay on campus during that time. Details, including dates and times, will be listed here as they become available.

Commencement FAQs

Will we have a Commencement in 2021?

Yes! We will have a virtual Commencement on May 23, 2021, as announced in President Sonya Stephens’s March 12, 2021 letter.

Details about the Commencement ceremony continue to evolve and more specifics will emerge as planning develops. All students will be able to participate in the ceremony and a real time video link will be available to be viewed by all families, friends, and supporters. All students can submit a photo of themselves, to be shown as part of the Commencement on May 23.

A date for filming and a link for photo submission will be announced shortly.

Other major updates will be communicated directly, and we encourage you to check the Commencement page for the most recent information.

The College communicated its decision as soon as it was finalized to ensure seniors and their families had information as soon as possible to make plans for May 23, including deadlines for ordering regalia, nominating class speakers and more.

Why won’t Commencement 2021 be in-person?

While Massachusetts recently issued guidelines that allowed large gatherings, Mount Holyoke College has made the decision as an institution to keep Commencement 2021 virtual for these main reasons:

  • Access: Currently, there are 159 seniors on campus. About 76 graduating seniors are out of the country and the rest of the senior class is off campus. Shifting requirements around testing and quarantine for those traveling from out of the state present logistical and financial barriers for travelers that cannot be mitigated. Finally, not all seniors and their families have access to the vaccine, nor would they be able to be vaccinated in time for May 23. A virtual ceremony will be the most inclusive for all seniors.

  • Planning: At the time the College had to finalize its decision about a commencement ceremony, large in-person graduation ceremonies were still banned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Given the complicated logistics of planning Commencement, changing course after Governor Baker’s announcement would have made it impossible for us to celebrate our graduates with the thoughtfulness, planning and pizzazz they deserve.

  • Safety of our campus: The College currently has a low positivity rate for COVID-19. We have this low rate because of an abundance of care and caution, including avoiding large in-person gatherings.

Why not have Commencement at the two-year reunion?

The class of 2020 had their in-person commencement canceled at the last minute while the country was still in the first throes of quarantine. There was not adequate time to plan a fulsome virtual celebration. In order to properly celebrate the Class of 2020, and out of consideration for the Class of 2020’s express wishes, the College decided to delay their Commencement ceremony and hold it at their two-year reunion in 2022.

This year, we are all trying to balance the desire to hold in-person events with the safety concerns caused by the still-prevalent COVID-19 virus. The College also considered questions of the cost for seniors returning to campus two years after graduation and the complexity of doing so, and determined that a significant number of 2021 seniors would not be able to return to campus for their two-year reunion in 2023.

We do expect to have special events at the two-year reunion for all who are able to attend. And we wanted the Commencement ceremony to be as inclusive as possible for all members of the class of 2021 to celebrate their hard work!

With the added time for appropriate planning, we have been able to create a safe virtual ceremony that appropriately celebrates our seniors in the most inclusive way possible.

Who plans Commencement?

There is a Commencement Planning Committee that has been charged with orchestrating, organizing and delivering a commencement ceremony along with Senior Week activities. Traditionally Commencement is a collaborative process led by the President’s Office. Members consist of staff and administrators from across the campus, including representatives from the President’s Office, the Division of Student Life, the Division of Academic Affairs and the Alumnae Association — including representation from offices such as Community and Belonging, Student Involvement, Dean of Faculty Office and the Registrar. Members of the Senior Class Board are also part of the committee. The committee holds a full group meeting and a Commencement ceremony planning meeting every week, plus many daily meetings for different breakout groups. The committee also has a weekly briefing with President Sonya Stephens.  

What Senior Week traditions will we have?

Senior Week will happen May 12–15. For residential students, the majority of these events will have an in-person, on-campus component. Residential students eligible for graduation are welcome to stay on campus during that time.

The Division of Student Life, along with other campus partners such as the Senior Class Board and Alumnae Association, are currently reimagining Senior Week traditions to be pandemic-safe and to involve seniors who are currently off-campus. Working within public health guidelines, our goal is to offer as many of the traditions as we can, safely, during Senior Week. Details, including dates and times, will be listed here as they become available.

In addition to the events currently being planned for this year, we are pleased to announce that the President's Office will sponsor an in-person Strawberries and Champagne event during the Class of 2021's two-year reunion, as well as a Canoe Sing event.

Will my family be able to watch me graduate?

Yes! Mount Holyoke is working with an outside vendor to produce a video celebration for all graduates and their families and friends. We will have more information as that becomes available at https://www.mtholyoke.edu/commencement

What name will be on my diploma/announced?

The Registrar works with students directly to ensure that their name appears as they wish on their diploma. Please see the College’s chosen name policy for instructions on how to ensure your name appears as you wish.

For LGBTQ students who wish to celebrate their accomplishments under a name other than what will appear on their diploma, the Lavender Ceremony honors every student as they wish within the safety and confidentiality of a closed event.

All students should be sure to use the name pronunciation form to ensure that they are properly honored during the ceremony.

What other events are there for family & friends?

Friends and family may attend the virtual Commencement ceremony as well as some of the Senior Week events that their graduating senior is participating in. There is an updated list of these events on the Commencement page.